HANG TIME, Texas — Well, the Hornets are changing their name to the Pelicans next season. Maybe the Rockets just wanted to get in on the excitement and fun of their own identity switch.
The Houston Doormen?
The Rockets couldn’t have been more accommodating to the lowly Suns if they had carried their luggage, rolled out the red carpet for the Warriors and in the process set themselves up to fall through a trapdoor in the playoff race. Houston could have taken a step closer to clinching the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference on Monday night, but now face a must-win game on Wednesday against the Lakers in L.A. to avoid the No. 8 spot.
It is the story of a young team, in fact the youngest in the entire league, not coming into a game against a losing team with the proper sense of urgency and respect. The Rockets allowed the Suns to beat them down the floor most of the night for fastbreak buckets and also pound the ball inside in the paint.
You could chalk it up to former Rockets Luis Scola and Goran Dragic wanting to get in their licks against their former team. Scola showed off all of his veteran wiles, hitting 11 of his 16 shots for 26 points and 15 rebounds, while Dragic piled up 21 points and handed out 14 assists.
Houston’s James Harden shot 5-for-18 and finished with just 16 points, Jeremy Lin shot 8-for-19 and the Rockets turned the ball over 16 times.
Give the Suns, who’ve been accused of tanking games, credit for playing their final home game of the season with pride. But give the blame to a Rockets that was a half-step slow from the opening tip and never played as if their there was anything on the line. Which, of course, there was.
Now the Rockets must win against the desperate Lakers on Wednesday and have the Warriors lose at Portland in order to claim the No. 6 seed. If both the Rockets and Warriors win, Houston will finish seventh and face No. 2 seed San Antonio.
If the Rockets and Warriors both lose, Houston will finish eighth and open the playoffs against No. 1 seed Oklahoma City, a matchup with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that nobody wants.
If the Lakers beat the Rockets, the Warriors are sixth regardless and L.A. will finish seventh and play the Spurs.
In that case, you have to figure the Houston Doormen will at least have earned a nice tip.
With a third opportunity in the last two weeks to break even and grab a shave for the first time in months, the Dallas Mavericks were blown away, inexplicably embarrassed at home by the skidding Phoenix Suns and laid to rest their run of 12 consecutive playoff appearances.
That franchise record officially ended Wednesday night when the Lakers outlasted the Trail Blazers about 90 minutes after a dominant Goran Dragic (21 points, 13 assists) and the relief-smitten Suns left Dallas with a 102-91 victory.
Each of the Mavs’ three attempts to reach .500 ended in double-digit losses and by an average margin of 18.6 points.
“Every time we’ve had a chance we’ve kind of laid an egg,” said a disappointed Dirk Nowitzki, who said his gimpy ankle was fine as he went just 6-for-18 from the floor for 21 points. “We obviously want to finish the season with a positive record. We owe that to everybody, to the franchise and the fans. This was a game we needed to have.”
Prior to it, Mavs owner Mark Cuban, unaccustomed to rooting for ping-pong balls, acknowledged the obvious: his club has “room to improve, a lot of room to improve.” Then he watched from his baseline seat as the same infuriating issues — horrific guard play, poor defensive rebounding and a non-contesting defense — breathed life into the visitors who entered having lost 10 straight overall, 10 in a row to the Mavs and hadn’t won in Dallas since March 2007.
“We were the team that looked like we were on a back-to-back, not them,” Nowitzki said. “Just a terrible, terrible, disappointing loss.”
After the Mavs’ Wednesday morning shootaround, coach Rick Carlisle was asked if he had to guard against his team taking the cellar-dwelling Suns for granted. His response: ”Anybody around here who’s taking any games for granted this year is a [expletive] idiot.”
Yet that message apparently didn’t reach his players. There was veteran Vince Carter, the team’s most consistent performer this season next to Shawn Marion, admitting as much while answering a question that never broached the topic of taking the opponent for granted.
“I think we took the team for granted at the beginning and felt like we could just win the game,” Carter said. “Took their record, their streak for granted, if you ask me. You just can’t do that.” (more…)
Missed a game last night? Wondering what the latest news around the NBA is this morning? The Morning Shootaround is here to try to meet those needs and keep you up on what’s happened around the league since the day turned.
The one recap to watch: Because there were only two games on the schedule — and one of ‘em was an absolute blowout — we gotta go with Mavericks-Warriors today. Andrew Bogut made his presence felt with a game-saving block on Brandan Wright, Harrison Barnes was swooping and scoring, Klay Thompson was draining shots and … it was the Warriors being the Warriors and doing all of this while star guard Steph Curry (ankle) sat out for a second straight game.
Much ado about ‘nothing’ in OKC — With 8 minutes, 57 seconds left in the third quarter, OKC’s rout of Memphis was definitely on. The Thunder had a 25-point lead — 65-40 — and Thunder All-Star guard Russell Westbrook went to work on the left block. He was called for a 5-second violation and, as the ball was changing hands to the Grizz, Westbrook engaged in an argument with guard Thabo Sefolosha. Sefolosha’s man had come to double team Westbrook, leaving Sefolosha open at the 3-point line. But Westbrook continued backing down his man despite the defense.
Westbrook and Sefolosha argued, then Westbrook punched the ball to the court, catching it with both hands before handing it to the official. Westbrook played roughly another minute before being pulled for Reggie Jackson. Westbrook then sat on the bench and had an animated discussion with assistant coach Maurice Cheeks before leaving the court in a huff and heading to the OKC locker room. He returned to the bench and played a bit more in the fourth quarter.
After the game, both coach Scott Brooks and Westbrook addressed the outburst, with Westbrook talking to TNT’s Craig Sager. Both men blew off the incident as ‘nothing’, as USA Today’s Adi Joseph and The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel report:
Russell Westbrook sometimes loses his temper.
Russell Westbrook never explains why he lost his temper.
The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard went off without any good explanation during Thursday’s 106-89 win against the Memphis Grizzlies. He had been called for a five-second violation while posting up Grizzlies guard Jerryd Bayless, and apparently he pinned the violation on teammate Thabo Sefolosha.
Now Sefolosha’s cut to the basket was ill-timed, but Westbrook got steaming mad in the moment. Coach Scott Brooks pulled him from the game, leaving him to stew even more.
“I decided to take Russell out because we needed to calm down,” Brooks said. “Russell went in the back. It was nothing. He just had to regroup. … It was nothing that has not happened before — not just with him, with all of our guys.”
Did we mention this happened while the Thunder had an 18-point lead?
Westbrook sat down next to assistant coach Maurice Cheeks and then left the floor entirely, heading to the locker room with a towel on his head.
After the game, Westbrook blew it off.
“Nothing, just a little miscommunication,” he said, via Daily Thunder’s Royce Young.
Little-known fact: Miscommunication is not a word, according to most dictionaries. Also, it’s not a valid excuse for that kind of tantrum.
But Westbrook takes a lot of heat for his play, as many critics think he shoots too often even as he has emerged as one of the best players in the NBA. He’s got a lot of steam to blow off, so sometimes it flies in undeserving directions.
“I’ll control it like a man,” Westbrook said. “Like I did.”
Peter Pan was back in business Thursday night. You know. Russell Westbrook. The mischievous boy who can fly and who never grows up.
Westbrook barked at the genteel Thabo Sefolosha, took a shot so wild Scotty Brooks was forced to substitute, blew his stack while being counseled by Mo Cheeks, knocked over a chair and stormed off the court to the comfort of a Chesapeake Arena tunnel.
At the time, Westbrook was playing an excellent game and the Thunder led Memphis by 20 points.
The Thunder produced a 106-89 rout of the Grizzlies that was overshadowed by Peter Pan.
And maybe the basketball world will be better off if we accept what Westbrook is. Part hot hand, part hothead. Uncorrallable, not just by NBA opponents, but by Thunder brass.
“There’s no question he was frustrated with himself,” Brooks said. “Russell’s an emotional guy … not trying to downplay that. He has to be able to control his frustration. But that’s part of it.”
Kevin Durant defended Westbrook but also said the squad “talked it out” in the locker room and didn’t let it fester. That’s good.
“Russell is such an emotional player,” Durant said. “I knew he’d be back. That’s how he is. We want everybody to be themselves.”
That’s good. I like that. That’s the best advice the Thunder can receive.
Quit trying to change Russell Westbrook. Don’t even defend him. Just accept him for who he is. The boy who can fly and never grows up.
Report: Suns pursuing Hawks’ Smith — Alex Kennedy of HoopsWorld.com reports that several teams are interested in trading for Hawks forward Josh Smith before the Feb. 21 deadline, with the Suns trying to work their way to the front of the list. After parting with Steve Nash over the summer in a sign-and-trade deal with the Lakers, the Suns have tried to rebuild themselves around Goran Dragic, Marcin Gortat, Michael Beasley and others, but are the second-worst team in the Western Conference at 16-30 and are looking to make a move to set up their future:
The Suns are pursuing Josh Smith, according to multiple league sources. Phoenix will try to acquire Smith before the deadline or, if that fails, through a sign-and-trade deal next offseason.
The Suns are very interested in Smith and have had exploratory talks with the Atlanta Hawks about the 27-year-old forward. Phoenix views Smith as a franchise player who can be one of the cornerstones of the team for years to come. The Suns have been searching for a face of the franchise since Steve Nash’s departure last summer, and Smith could be exactly that. If the Hawks decide it’s time to part ways with Smith, the Suns will be one of the teams on the phone.
Phoenix has attractive assets, particularly Marcin Gortat, who could play alongside Al Horford and give the Hawks one of the best frontcourts in the Eastern Conference. They also have Jared Dudley and Michael Beasley as well as the expiring contracts of Wes Johnson, Shannon Brown (whose 2013-14 salary is non-guaranteed), Sebastian Telfair and Jermaine O’Neal. Phoenix also has several first-round picks – their own pick and two additional first-round picks that they acquired in the Nash trade with the Los Angeles Lakers and the Johnson trade with the Minnesota Timberwolves. Luis Scola could also be involved in the trade, but only if the deal is a sign-and-trade since he can’t be traded until July 1 due to the fact that he was signed by the Suns after being amnestied by the Houston Rockets.
Smith and his agent, Wallace Prather, are expected to meet with the Hawks at some point this week to discuss the forward’s future in Atlanta. The two sides met after Smith’s one-game suspension for “conduct detrimental to the team,” but Smith’s camp didn’t demand a trade. It’s unclear if Smith and Prather will ask for a trade during this next meeting, although many people in NBA circles believe that Smith’s days in Atlanta could be numbered. In recent weeks, more teams have been calling the Hawks and inquiring about Smith, especially since his public comments about being “a max contract player.”
While the Suns will express interest in Smith, they aren’t the only team that will make a run at the star forward. The Houston Rockets, Charlotte Bobcats and Dallas Mavericks have also been mentioned as potential suitors for Smith.
A few hours after Kennedy posted his story, John Gambadoro, sports talk host for 620 KTAR in Phoenix, tweeted that the report was bogus:
The stories about the Suns being interested in Josh Smith are ridiculous, there is zero interest there -ZERO!— John Gambadoro (@Gambo620) February 01, 2013
You just have to love trade rumor season …
Ainge, Celts ‘open’ to offers — Celtics basketball boss Danny Ainge isn’t putting specific names out, but did tell WEEI’s Big Show on Thursday afternoon that he is willing to consider trades to improve Boston. The name that’s being bandied about as a possible piece that could net the kind of assets Boston wants is Paul Pierce, but Ainge sounded at best lukewarm on trading the franchise’s all-time leading scorer. Ainge isn’t looking for a point guard to replace the injured Rajon Rondo. Gary Dzen of Boston.com has more:
“We are open and listening, but we don’t feel pressure to do anything,” said Ainge. “Whether we win every game or whether we struggle, I think it all depends on what opportunities are presented. We want to make some change to help improve our team.”
The player who would seem to have the most value on the open market is Paul Pierce. He’s a veteran who can help a contending team win now, and only $4 million of his $15.3 million contract for next season is guaranteed. Ainge said he has not received any offers for Pierce, but he said that he would inform his veteran forward of any potential trade discussions.
“Nothing has been talked about with Paul,” said Ainge. “Nothing is close to being done. I too would like to see Paul retire as a Celtic.That would be great. We’re all attached to Paul. He’s been great for the city, the franchise, and he’s been a true pro. Having said that, if something came up I would talk to Paul. My job is to do what’s in the best interest of our team, regardless of my personal ties or my personal feelings with the players.”
Ainge was also adamant that he was not currently in the market to pick up another point guard to replace Rajon Rondo.
“Not right now,” he said. “There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not just jumping out and doing something.There really is nobody that you can find to replace Rondo, either through a trade or free agent acquisition, at this time of year. We like the guys — Barbosa’s been dying for a chance to play, and Jason Terry, and Avery Bradley at the point. I think all those guys are looking for an opportunity.”
The Celtics have won their last two games with Rondo, and talk radio was filled Thursday with fans calling in suggesting that the team might be better without its All-Star point guard. Ainge quickly shot down notion.
“He single-handedly carries us every night, and I don’t know how people don’t see that,” said Ainge. “It’s silly. He’s a great, great player, and he’s proven that time and time again. The guy’s been MVP of probably four or five series over the last five years. He’s been the best player in a series against LeBron James. He’s been the best player in a series against Derrick Rose. He’s been the best player in three games in a Finals series. The guy has done too many good things. The question is, ‘Are the pieces right around him?’”
Ainge sounded relatively happy with his current team. He did not sound like a GM looking to make drastic changes for this season.
“I think I’ve been pretty consistent on this team the last couple of years,”he said. “I said I like the individuals. Obviously I don’t like 20-23, which we were when Rondo got hurt. I didn’t like any part of that.
“But what I particularly said is I like what these guys are made of, especially our core guys. When it comes down to playoff basketball, I know what they’re made of, and I know that they have the gear to take it to another level.”
Pistons thinking of keeping Calderon? — Don’t think of Jose Calderon landing in Detroit as a rental situation for the Pistons. Our man Vince Ellis at the Detroit Free Press reports that the Pistons have always liked Calderon’s game and see him as a long-term helper in their rebuilding efforts, particularly in developing the skills of rookie big man Andre Drummond and second-year point guard Brandon Knight. Here’s more on why Calderon intrigues Detroit:
Calderon traveled to Detroit on Thursday and likely will take his physical this morning. It’s not clear when he will suit up for the Pistons — the process can be tricky since he is a Spaniard now playing in the U.S. instead of in Canada. He will talk to the media today after a team shoot-around.
“We’ve always had a high value on Jose,” coach Lawrence Frank said after the Pistons’ loss at Indy on Wednesday. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He’s a guy who has been top five in the league in assists for the past four or five years. It gives us flexibility moving forward.”
The financial ramifications of the deal for the Pistons are obvious — Calderon’s $10.5 million comes off the books after this season.
If they do nothing else through the Feb. 21 deadline, Charlie Villanueva picks up his $8.5-million option for next season, and they decide to keep Rodney Stuckey for the full $8.5 million for next season, the Pistons will be roughly $20 million-$23 million under the cap. If they decide to invoke the amnesty clause on Villanueva during a weeklong window in July and cut Stuckey (they would owe him $4 million) before the June 30 deadline, the total could move to roughly $30 million-$35 million.
But don’t discount the Pistons trying to keep Calderon — at a reasonable price.
A Pistons source said the team is open to trying to re-sign Calderon over the summer, adding that the team thinks his playmaking skill would be a major boon to rookie center Andre Drummond.
Calderon was very good at setting up Toronto big men, playing a major role in helping former Piston Amir Johnson and young big Ed Davis, who was sent to the Grizzlies in the trade.
Nash losing a step in L.A.? — The Lakers did well with Kobe Bryant serving as the primary playmaker/assist man in L.A.’s offense for three games. That’s all well and good, but what about that future Hall of Fame point guard the Lakers signed in the offseason? Steve Nash has hardly had the ball at all, a change for someone used to directing an offense — particularly coach Mike D’Antoni‘s — for the entire game. The always-solid Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register delves deeper into why L.A. might be turning away from Nash (and toward Kobe) as the season wears on:
Bryant has more assists than any of the other four players left above him on the all-time scoring chart. He has been passing a lot more than you’ve noticed over the years.
So it’s not exactly brand-new, though he is now concentrating more on passing, for sure. It is increasing team energy while draining less of Bryant’s energy, it should be noted — but the Lakers’ loss in Phoenix on Wednesday night showed that trying to balance this approach with his natural inclination of shoot down the stretch is his newest toughest challenge.
Meanwhile, Steve Nash has some stuff to figure out, too.
As in, what has happened to him?
There is one viable excuse. Nash’s way is to take a break from basketball in the offseason. It’s why he was able to say on the first day of training camp: “I feel as good as I’ve ever felt.” But the tradeoff for that freshness is basketball rust, which has been exacerbated by Nash’s leg injury taking him off the court for 21/2 more months.
And with teammates unfamiliar with how, when and where to set picks for him to go where he wants, Nash has looked nothing like the old master and commander of the pick and roll.
In both the opening night loss to Dallas (seven points, four assists) under Mike Brown and the most recent loss to Phoenix (11 points, two assists) under Mike D’Antoni, Nash was basically Derek Fisher out there.
Nash was slow, trying to keep up on defense and generally not doing that much.
Nash has gone from D’Antoni’s oft-declared unequivocal savior while mending the leg fracture — “Steve’ll fix that” … “Steve’ll get that to happen” … “Steve’ll make me look like an offensive genius again” (well, maybe just paraphrasing on the last one) — to the guy D’Antoni in recent days consistently references as “39 years old.”
That’s D’Antoni’s capsule explanation — even though Nash doesn’t turn 39 for another week — for why Bryant is running the offense now, not Nash. D’Antoni says Nash will still carry the load at times, but Bryant can help him this way, and blah-blah-blah.
C’mon. If Nash was still Nash, D’Antoni of all people would never take the keys away and hand them to Bryant.
Nash has no distinct role and doesn’t have the sort of personality to demand one.
In the fourth quarter in Phoenix on his homecoming night, Nash had one assist (hardly a classic one considering it came on a Bryant 22-footer). He took one shot, a missed 21-footer with 5:21 to play. He was such a nonfactor that he didn’t even have any turnovers as the Lakers blew a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
“I think I can help,” Nash said afterward. “I definitely think that I can score and set up my teammates and especially in the fourth quarter take some pressure off Kobe. Those are things we’ve still go to work out and find that balance.”
Nash’s idea of saving his legs for the fourth to carve up a defense unaccustomed to defending him is a great one … except it’s pretty much impossible to envision Bryant standing off to the side at crunch time. That’s the time Bryant wants the ball more, not less.
So Nash’s search will go on. He has the sweetest attitude of anyone, but Nash must find something for himself. Whether it’s making five 3-pointers every night or seizing a pick-and-roll time with Gasol early each game to play his old way, the guy who has made so many role players look so good in his career needs to find a role of his own.
Bynum has a tune-up of sorts — Andrew Bynum went to New York to get Synvisc shots from his physician, Dr. David Altchek. Synvisc, a joint lubricant that can provide up to six months of knee pain relief per injection, is expected to help Bynum continue on his road to finally getting on the court for the Sixers this season. As he’s said all along, Bynum hopes to play before the All-Star break, but the Sixers are (of course) taking a cautious approach with him. PhillyBurbs.com’s Tom Moore provides details:
This is the third consecutive season in which Bynum has had two sets of Synvisc injections, with the second typically coming right before the all-star break. He got the first ones this season in late September.
A 76ers spokesman said Bynum, who is recovering from bone bruises in both knees, is expected to return to rehab and working out as soon as Sunday. Bynum has said he hopes to make his Sixers debut soon after the Feb. 14-19 all-star break, but there is still no official timetable.
The 7-foot, 300-pound Bynum has been running on the anti-gravity treadmill, as well as doing basketball shooting, low-post and agility drills for the past 10 days.
GM Tony DiLeo said earlier this week that Bynum could practice with the team as early as the first week of February, which begins Monday. It’s unclear if he’ll still be able to practice next week.
Coach Doug Collins cautioned against expecting too much too fast from Bynum, noting he hasn’t appeared in an NBA game in more than eight months.
“The one thing we have to understand is, he’s not all of a sudden just going to jump into a 5-on-5 scrimmage,” Collins said after Thursday’s team practice. “He’s done nothing laterally or impact-wise. For us to run him out there and he’s going to play 37 minutes would not be feasible because he would have a setback with that.
“Hopefully, he’ll be able to start playing a little 1-on-1 in the post and then build up with that.”
Collins also said the Sixers don’t plan to change their offense “if and when” Bynum can play.
Changes just beginning in Toronto — Given the comments of Raptors GM Bryan Colangelo to our NBA TV crew on Wednesday night (see the interview here) and what he’s telling the media in Raptor-ville, there might be more moves on the horizon north of the border. Damien Cox of the Toronto Star opines that, given Toronto’s current roster makeup, there has to be more coming down the pike:
Then again, let’s all list together the great trades made by Colangelo as GM of the Raps.
You go first.
Maybe Colangelo took the broad hint delivered by the Bell/Rogers unholy ownership alliance and figured the walls were closing in on him if he didn’t make something happen soon.
But really, he knew that at the beginning of the season, no? And he did try to land Steve Nash last summer, going so far as to work the Landry Fields signing to make the entire process come together.
So getting Gay wasn’t a winter impulse. Colangelo’s been working on winning now for a while. It’s just that getting Gay cost a lot, more than just money. There are those who believe Ed Davis will prove to be the best player in this deal, and we’ll see about that. Trading a youngster just as he’s hitting his stride has been, of course, a Leaf trademark for decades.
But if Colangelo is right and Gay blossoms in Toronto, part of the reasoning will have been that for the Raps, getting this kind of player is only possible through trade. Free agents, notable ones, just aren’t going to sign in the Great White North, at least not with an also-ran.
Gay may become the front-court scoring threat who combines with DeMar DeRozan for a true one-two punch. But how does that fit around the youngster, Jonas Valanciunas, who’s a bit of a project still? Meanwhile, Colangelo seems committed to dealing Andrea Bargnani, and now it doesn’t make sense to do that for futures, does it?
Feels like there’s another shoe to drop here.
Clearly, the Raps now want to win, just as the Jays now want to win, as the Argos felt they had to try to win. The sensible path for the Leafs is to show some patience, but there’s been no indication from MLSE ownership that Nonis has permission to do it nice and slow.
A town that had Mats Sundin, Chris Bosh and Roy Halladay, then watched them all leave town, is getting some names back.
Just (trying) to win, baby.
ICYMI of the night: There are veteran tricks, and then there is what Vince Carter pulled on the unsuspecting Warriors last night …:
Now in the middle of the NBA’s FIT Live Healthy Week, the league knew what it was doing when it requested Golden State Warriors rookie Harrison Barnes join the cause.
“He’s one of those guys that have come in early and not only understands basketball, but the business of basketball,” said JoHan Wang, Warriors’ director of athletic performance. “He knows that his body is the most important thing that’s going to help him through his career. With that being said, he’s already started doing a lot of things that I’ve worked with guys that are late in their careers, they don’t start figuring out until their eight, nine, 10 years in the league.
“Which is big because I’ve only worked with a handful of guys that have done that and understand. For a guy that’s come in, he’s already a starter, he’s proven he can play in this league and I’m sure you’ve seen his highlights. He has unbelievable athletic ability, and he’s willing to study the game, so the sky’s the limit for this kid.”
For Barnes, 20, an understanding of the importance of exercise and fitness started as a kid growing up in Ames, Iowa, and craving every moment — when the temperature allowed — to be outdoors and playing a myriad of sports, from basketball to track to soccer and even a little football in middle school.
Such dedication helped him to become the seventh overall pick of the Warriors in the 2012 NBA Draft.
Barnes joins fellow NBA players Tyson Chandler (New York Knicks), Goran Dragic (Phoenix Suns), Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves), Wesley Matthews (Portland Trail Blazers), Chandler Parsons (Houston Rockets), and John Wall (Washington Wizards) in promoting NBA FIT Live Healthy Week.
The week features grassroots programs and events, special on-court apparel and in-arena and online programming designed to inspire kids and families across the country to live active, healthy lives. Throughout the week, NBA and NBA Development League players will wear special on-court attire, including adidas NBA FIT shooting shirts and blue headbands and wristbands.
“Exercise is just an important part of everyday life,” said the 6-foot-8, 210-pound Barnes. “Whether you’re an athlete or not, it’s important. I’m glad the NBA has chosen this initiative to reach out to kids and help them become active and fit and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
You can check out NBA.com/nbafit to get fitness tips from players and trainers, view player workout videos, and check out healthy recipes from celebrity chefs Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Michael Ferraro, Michael Psilakis, and Dale Talde. Follow @NBACares for special promotions and giveaways throughout the week.
Here’s more of Barnes in his own words:
Q: Growing up what sports did you like to play?
A: As I kid growing up I was really active. I was outdoors a lot during the summers, whether it was playing soccer, whether it was track, basketball, I did a little bit of football, I was just trying to be as active as possible. I did track all the way through high school, I did soccer until I got to middle school and then football when I got to middle school.
Q: What’s your advice to kids, who have so many indoor distractions, to get outdoors and exercise?
A: Just enjoy being active. I grew up in Iowa, so I only had three months to be outside and just really cherished those moments. But people out here in California, they can be outside all the time. Just go be active, whether it’s running around a playground or an organized sport, basketball, football, track, soccer, whatever it is. Just go outside and be active.
Q: You’ve started every game of your first NBA season, something few rookies can say. How would you describe your first season?
A: I think I’ve been playing pretty well. I’m starting on a team that is fifth in the West, so there’s really no complaints. Just want to continue to get better every single day and I continue to do that.
Q: What were your expectations coming into your rookie season?
A: My goals were to come into this team and just contribute and hopefully be part of a team that makes the playoffs. I’ve been able to contribute so far this season, hopefully just continue to get more consistent and hopefully keep our playoff dreams alive.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When Rasheed Wallace talks, referees listen.
It’s been that way throughout Wallace’s basketball career, dating back to his fouling out of and then being ejected from the 1993 McDonald’s All-American game at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis (I know I’m dating myself a bit here, but I was in attendance that day).
Wallace continued his decades-old tradition Sunday in the New York Knicks’ win over the Phoenix Suns when he headed to the showers early after being ejected in the first quarter. But not everyone is convinced that he earned this latest ejection, as both Tyson Chandler and Carmelo Anthony told ESPNNewYork.com that his reputation earned him an early exit:
“I think so. He’s the only guy in the league that gets technicals for saying, ‘ball don’t lie,’ so that should go to show you right there,” Tyson Chandler said.
Wallace picked up career technical fouls 316 and 317 late in the first quarter on Sunday for arguing a foul call.
He played just 1 minute, 25 seconds in the game, the quickest ejection of his 15-year career, according to Elias.
Wallace appeared to argue with officials after he was whistled for a foul on Phoenix forward Luis Scola.
He then apparently yelled “ball don’t lie” after Goran Dragic missed his technical free throw and was ejected.
Wallace, 38, continued to argue with officials as he walked off the court flanked by security.
“I didn’t think it was that much for him to get kicked out,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He needs to trademark ‘ball don’t lie’ though. I tell you that.”
Wallace has been ejected 30 times, according to STATS, LLC, 26 times in the regular season.
On the season, Wallace has four technical fouls, one behind Anthony and Demarcus Cousins, who entered play Sunday tied for the league lead with five.
You can judge for yourself if Wallace’s latest ejection was real or based on his reputation. He is guilty as charged, for hollering after the missed free throw, but is that worth another technical and an ejection?
On opening night everybody is undefeated and optimistic. But that doesn’t mean some players — young and old — aren’t more under the gun to step forward and establish their place in the league. So we present a couple of fistfuls of guys who need to hit the ground running:
Nicolas Batum, Trail Blazers – It’s been four seasons now of occasional flashes and teases. Now that Brandon Roy and Greg Oden are simply yellowed pages in the history books, it is time for Batum to be the twin support along with LaMarcus Aldridge that is a bridge to the future. Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard might draw a lot of attention in the backcourt along with fellow newbie Meyers Leonard in the middle, but after getting his big paycheck, Batum must deliver the goods every night.
Michael Beasley, Suns — As Bob Dylan might have sung, how many roads does a man walk down before he’s considered a bust? This is already the third stop on the reclamation tour of the former No. 2 overall pick, and if he can’t succeed in coach Alvin Gentry’s offense-friendly atmosphere in Phoenix, what’s left? Beasley can score. He can rebound. What he has to prove is an ability to keep his head in the game and with the program.
Andrew Bogut, Warriors — There’s virtually nobody in the league that questions his ability as a passer, scorer and defender in the middle. The only question is his durability. It’s been four years since Bogut played more than 69 games in a season and twice he’s managed only 36 and 12. Coming back from a fractured ankle, he missed the entire preseason schedule and only practiced for the first time on Monday. The Warriors need him on the floor to even think of making a run at the playoffs. (more…)
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – The start of training camp is just days away.
There are 30 teams that believe deep down this is the year they do it. This is the year that it all comes together. This is the year that they win it all again in Miami, finally win it in Oklahoma City or finally break through and make the playoffs in places like Sacramento, Detroit and New Orleans.
The power of positive thinking will be on full display around the league when players convene for the initial stage of the 2012-13 season.
Not all of those hoop dreams will be realized, though, and there will no doubt be teams that are convinced they are prepared to take that next step this season when they simply are not.
But we’re focusing on the positives today, peering into our crystal ball and trying to identify the teams with the goods to make good on whatever promise they’ve shown in recent seasons, Drafts and in the offseasons (in free agency and trades).
There are no guarantees, of course. Injuries and other unforeseen issues can alter the fate of a team at any time.
We’ve checked the radar, though, and the skies are clear for HT’s Five Teams On The Rise … five lottery teams with a chance to move into the realm of playoff contention:
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS, 21-45 last season
They were supposed to go away for five or six years after the departure of Lebron James and rebuild quietly. Then Kyrie Irving showed up and forced us all to reconsider. The roster is slowly but surely being fortified to surround a budding star like Irving with a supporting cast capable of making a little playoff noise at some point in the near future.
Anderson Varejao looked like his usual pesky self in London during the Olympics and Tristan Thompson showed significant promise last season as well. They’ll form the foundation of a frontcourt rotation that will include rookie center Tyler Zeller and rugged workman Samardo Samuels.
The only thing that worries us about the Cavaliers is whether or not rookie Dion Waiters is ready to assume his role as Irving’s backcourt sidekick. We were a bit surprised to see him picked where he was in the June Draft, but we were forced to reconsider when a handful of coaches and two league executives we trust gushed about him after the Draft.
Bottom line: With the fearless Irving as the ringleader (he learned from the best in Las Vegas this summer), the Cavaliers have a fighting chance this season.
MILWAUKEE BUCKS, 31-35 last season
Bucks general manager John Hammond was the league’s Executive of the Year in 2010 for a reason. If he believes that the Monta Ellis-Brandon Jennings combo is the key to getting this team back to the playoffs, we’ll ride with him. And it’s not like we needed to be convinced. Ellis has always been on our most underrated list and Jennings continues to do his thing without the respect he deserves for the improvements he’s made since entering the league.
Hammond wasn’t afraid to recognize that Andrew Bogut wasn’t the right fit for the franchise, a move that will either look like a disaster or pure genius depending on how things for turn out for Bogut and the Golden State Warriors this season. The Bucks, instead, are opting for the big-man-by-committee approach this season with Sam Dalembert, Drew Gooden, Larry Sanders, Ekpe Udoh and rookie John Henson manning the paint.
Ersan Ilyasova was a bit of a revelation last season and should give Bucks fans another dose of hope about this season and the future of the franchise. It’s not often a team stumbles onto a gem like Ilyasova, an unselfish worker bee who is effective on both ends of the floor with the range to shoot from deep and the size and versatility to guard as many as three different positions.
Bottom line: The pressure is on and Bucks coach Scott Skiles usually does some of his best work in those situations.
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – For NBA players who reside outside of the superstar city limits of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant and their kind, the chance for stardom is more complex than just strapping on a jersey and someone turning the arena lights on.
Taking that step from player to star player requires not only the desire to be great but also the space and opportunity to do so, the right team at the right time, etc.
(See Jeremy Lin for further reference …)
Those roads will intersect for many during the 2012-13 season. Some will seize the moment and embrace their revised roles and others will miss the opportunity to move up the league food chain. It’s a seemingly never-ending cycle that we love to observe, if only to see which budding stars rise to the occasion.
One player with all of the pieces in place for that breakout season is Suns point guard Goran Dragic, who has a window between the end of the Steve Nash era and rookie Kendall Marshall‘s formative years, to make the case that the flashes of greatness we’ve seen from him in the past are more than just momentary bursts of greatness.
Dragic has clearly done the hard work (check the video, above … and yes, we’ll talk with him about getting us a pair of those shorts later) necessary to become the sort of player he, and so many other who have championed his cause over the years, believe he can be. Opportunity is banging on his door something fierce.
We’ll find out soon if he’s as ready as he appears to be, because if not …. there are plenty of other guys willing and waiting for their chance to pounce.
FIVE GUYS TO WATCH IN 2012-13
In addition to Dragic, these are the other guys on HT’s list of potential breakout stars this season:
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – With the Steve Nash era over and no sign of a Valley of the Sun-themed version of the Big 3 on the horizon, fans of the Phoenix Suns are bracing themselves for a rebuilding project that could be as painstaking a process as they have witnessed in years.
It’s a fact of life for fans of basically every franchise in the NBA (save for the Lakers), and a reality that the Suns organization is tackling in a somewhat unconventional and rather refreshing way.
Instead of scrambling for a quick fix or looking for some superstar to rescue them, the Suns are focusing their attentions within their program and going about the business of trying to build a playoff contender from the inside. They are making player development the staples of their operation, with 17-year NBA veteran Lindsey Hunter leading the charge as the coach in charge of helping develop homegrown talent.
Hunter began working out players this month with more individualized plans to come in September, when voluntary sessions begin.
“We’re trying to put together a system where we’re no longer looking for outside influences to create a better product,” Hunter said. “We want to do it right from the interior. A lot of people say, ‘You got to go get better players,’ which is true. But you have to make what you have better and we’re serious about it now.”
The Suns intend to hire a young former NBA big man and make the staff available to players “24-7,” General Manager Lance Blanks said.
“This is really important to me,” Blanks said. “It’s not something that was needed. What the organization was doing worked. It won at a very high level. Different personnel and situation. This will create a lot of continuity between front office, coaches and training staff.”
HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – This is the time of year for positive spin around the NBA. No matter what moves your team made in July, it’s going to have a positive outlook on the near or distant future.
The Phoenix Suns are one of those teams that’s looking long-term … for the most part. Franchise icon Steve Nash is gone, along with Grant Hill. The Suns have added some mid-level free agents and trade acquisitions, but it will be tough for them to compete in an improved Western Conference.
Suns general manager Lance Blanks sees the Suns as a team in transition, but he’s not not up for going the Orlando Magic route by completely bottoming out for the next two or three years, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic reports…
The roster has changed, but the commitment to a wide-open, entertaining playing style remains — and the front office has done it all with an aim toward returning the team to a sustainable elite status.
“The first goal was to be able to put a team out there that would handle the next era of the organization — the rigors and challenges,” Blanks said. “A transition like that is not always seamless. We wanted to make sure we had people to weather the ups and downs of entering the next era and also find guys whose career paths and trajectories fit the future of the organization. Just about every guy is a fresh-start guy.”